Darwinia’s Success at GDC: “Patronising” and “Out of Touch”?

Darwinia is a game about sentient, evolving life forms (Darwinians) living inside a computer. Their home is threatened by a computer virus, and the player’s task is to destroy the virus and save the Darwinians. Darwinia was the darling of the Independent Games Festival at the Game Developers Conference last week, winning three awards for Innovation in Visual Art, Technical Excellence, and the Seamus McNally Grand Prize worth $20 000.

The RAM Raider gives a different take on the game which has had praises heaped upon it both prior to the GDC, and now more widely since winning the awards at the conference:

Darwinia isn’t a technically excellent game. It doesn’t run as smoothly as games that look much better, and the gesture system was so ridiculous they virtually admitted it was ludicrous and unnecessary by adding in an alternative system in a patch. There’s no AI there either — Lemmings let you set waypoints, and that was 15 years ago.

Games that are poorly executed and aren’t properly tested are released all the time. What we’re really getting at is we find it ironic that, despite Introversion‘s speech at the awards, they were in desperate need of a publisher “fucking up” Darwinia, assuming by “fucking up” they meant “play-testing and ironing out obvious design flaws before release.”

RAM Raider further argues that a different Introversion game, which places the player in the role of a freelance computer hacker, is more polished and deserving of praise:

Uplink is a classic game, but with the exception of PC Gamer’s early review thanks to Gillen noticing its brilliance, it won no awards, and barely registered on most of the industry’s radar. It was left to the gamers and consumers to discover and support. Now it’s too late to sing the praises of Uplink, the industry has entered into a “guilt” phase of trumpeting Introversion as the saviours of gaming. Projecting the success of Uplink onto the inferior Darwinia, and defending any misguided views with the response that Introversion are British independent developers and therefore “cool,” (so that means any shortcomings in their game is excusable, natch) or it’s been designed for higher beings to understand, the industry has shown itself as being about four years out of touch. Worse, it patronises Introversion and cheapens their success.

  7 comments for “Darwinia’s Success at GDC: “Patronising” and “Out of Touch”?

  1. 30 March 2006 at 14:40

    He’s got a point about the technical excellence. It ain’t great. My little soldiers were constantly getting stuck and wandering around in tiny circles. Bit poor considering the entire game mechanic revolved around walking and shooting things. Also a bit buggy. I had more than few crashes.

    Still a super-cute game though! And if nothing else, it is entertaining, which is all I play for anyway.

    Personally I loved the visual art. Simple, stylish and stick-men. Woohoo! :)

  2. Patrick
    30 March 2006 at 14:46

    So maybe it shouldn’t have won the technical award, its still is (evidently, I haven’t played it) a quality play experience. Maybe Darwinia’s sweep isn’t an indication of bias in the judges as much as a lack of quality in the submissions. I think next year will be very different, however.

  3. 30 March 2006 at 15:10

    A lot of that stuff is decided before anything hits the floor. There is a reason that these companies keep pumping money into the “conferences” sure they want people to see their stuff, BUT a little tag saying BEST OF Blah-Blah Conference means MONEY! Well, ok, maybe not, but hey, I am sure back room brokerage does happen…Hell, back in 97 Daikatana was supposed to be the next big thing! And look what happened…

  4. 30 March 2006 at 19:12

    I’m not a huge fan of the IGF. I like the concept behind it, but…as a “Sundance for indie games” it’s success rate is less than stellar.

    However…the fact that we’ve now discussed a game that otherwise would never have come up in conversation must prove, at least in some way, that the IGF is working. Indie games are getting some attention. That’s never bad.


  5. 31 March 2006 at 06:09

    I’ve never played Darwinia, so I can’t bash it or defend it.

    However, this sounds like a problem inherent in these kinds of awards. It’s very difficult to beat the popularity contest aspect. Judges often give out awards based on public opinion and the publicity of such a show just feeds back into that.

    I thought, for instance, Half-Life 2 beating out San Andreas for best story was completely ridiculous. HL2 must have the most heralded story that, to date, nobody has actually been able to recount to me in any sensible manner.

    It’s very hard for a community to become a adept at weeding out quality, packaging it and selling it. I don’t mean in commercial terms, just in terms of public opinion. Instead, communities generally just follow the memes and the hype. Darwinia got a lot of hype, so it was followed with a lot of awards.

  6. 31 March 2006 at 07:45

    Sad but true Josh. Without solidly defined criteria for judging Technical Excellence, et al a lot to awards come down to hype and the current climate. Look at the 2004 Palm d’Or – Fahrenheit 9/11. Representative of the sentiment of its time but outstanding filmmaking? Hardly.

    I can’t actually look at many games websites since I’m at work but do the IGF awards have technical criteria? “Doesn’t crash on 85% of machines tested, maybe ;)

  7. 31 March 2006 at 08:03

    Josh, It is true. The Hype Machine wins because a lot of people are lemmings. They take someone’s opinion and use that to validated their liking of a certain product all the while never noticing the HUGE flaws right in front of their nose. People are just stupid. Plain and simple. It’s easier to accept something someone tells you as fact than to make a valid opinion after looking at the facts…This analogy might be off topic, but look at the 2004 elections where the theme was, Elect me or you will all die. All the Gloom and doom asociated with it. Not many voters went to look at specifics, but took the ads at face value, Why? Cause it’s the President and he wouldnt lie.
    Put that on the reviewers of said games. They are supposed to be impartial, and we are supposed to believe that. So when they say something, it must be true. Especially since they have said what I liked about other games…

Comments are closed.